“The kid stays in the picture.” That line is not simply Hollywood lore, as it was uttered by Darryl F. Zanuck to Ernest Hemingway who wanted young actor Robert Evans removed from the movie version of his seminal work The Sun Also Rises. Evans not only stayed in the picture but he went on to become one of the top producers in Hollywood. His credits include Rosemary’s Baby, Serpico, The Godfather films, Love Story and Chinatown.
Evans himself was straight out of the casting department. Tall, tanned and handsome with a booming bass voice, according to his New York Times (NYT) obituary, he had over 300 radio credits in New York City before moving to Hollywood. He originally went there to sell women’s clothes for his brother’s clothing line. He was spotted by Norma Shearer while he was “lounging poolside, caught the actress Norma Shearer’s eye. She thought he would be perfect to play her deceased husband (the producer Irving Thalberg) in a forthcoming drama, “Man of a Thousand Faces.”” Think about how much Hollywood is packed into that last sentence, 30s- and 40s-star Norma Shearer.
The most famous producer from Hollywood’s Golden Era, Irving Thalberg, a movie about the greatest make up artist (when actors applied their own makeup) who was also the greatest horror star from the silent era, Lon Chaney. (How is that for tie-in to my monthlong HorrorFest celebration?)
Evans led Paramount through some glorious years from 1966 until 1976 when he left to produce his own films. His first downfall came as a cocaine addiction led him to plead guilty to cocaine possession. In the late 1980s he had a series of strokes from which he eventually recovered. As with all Hollywood stories, there was eventual redemption. He wrote an autobiography which was made into a documentary entitled, appropriately enough, The Kid Stays in the Picture. Here’s to Evans, someone from a different time and a different place but always will be remembered as one of the greats.
One thing Evans did very well was he learnt to ask for help. Unfortunately, that is something many compliance practitioners may not do well as one thing many compliance practitioners have in common is self-reliance. Not every lawyer and compliance practitioner are a Type A personality but many are. In many ways, it is what makes us a success. However, in the corporate world, just like any other, there are limits to self-reliance. Put another way, if you do not have a culture where everybody appreciates the importance of their role in showing the type of behavior that is expected within your organization; then you are probably not doing a very good job of driving culture. Adam Bryant explored this theme in his NYT interview with Lori Dickerson Fouché, then Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Prudential Group Insurance.
A key lesson is to ask for help. Fouché said it “stemmed from the fact that I had been used to thinking, “I can get through the brick wall. I can make this happen.” I was very self-reliant, and I figured that if I could do it, so could the team. So, I overworked some teams early on, and that led to an early lesson around asking for help. It’s O.K. not to have all the answers and not to be able to do everything and to put your hand up and say, “I need help.” I was so surprised by how people really wanted to help. They loved being invited into the process.”
From these experiences, Fouché also learned to prioritize. She noted, “You simply can’t do everything. There were times I would walk into a new job, and my eyes would be huge and I would feel like a kid in a candy shop. I’d think, “Let’s just get after it,” instead of, “O.K., let’s pause. What’s the most important thing to really get after?” Being able to say “No” or “Not now” were important lessons for me.”
Another interesting lesson concerns transparency. Fouché related “to share my thoughts so that other people could follow them. I learned an important lesson from a colleague when I was C.E.O. at another company, who said: ‘Lori, this is a little bit like being on the train and you’re in the front of the train and we’re in the dark. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But there are people who are toiling in the back, and they’re throwing coal in the engine, and they’re working the cars, and that’s all they know. You should be at the front of the train, but your job is to shorten the distance between you and the back of the train so that we can all see what you see at the front.’”
In other words, prioritize and start the slogging work of going through the issues in front of you. It not only gives you some semblance of control but also helps you to focus on doing the next right thing. As a business leader, others in your team and cascading down will take their clues from you and begin to operate in the same analytical manner. This also ties into one of Fouché’s key points about her leadership style.
Not only does she strive for personal transparency, she expects it from others. She said, “I expect my leaders to listen. I expect them to ask questions. I expect them to understand what’s going on. I am somewhat infamous for saying, “So how’s it going?” And they’ll say, “Great.” Then I’ll say, “How do you know?” It’s one thing when people start telling you anecdotes and it’s another thing when they can say, “Well, because we track this and we measure that.” We make sure we’re analytical in our approaches.”
Aesop noted many eons ago that the race is not always won by the fastest but often the strongest and the steadiest. Many of the characteristics which allow you to rise within a corporation may need to be ameliorated somewhat at the C-Suite. Fouché’s lessons around her approach to both leadership and communications give you some good starting points.
This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Thomas R. Fox, 2019